Sunrise | Great River, New York

© Sophie W. Smith

Joined October 2012

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History
For centuries, the Algonquin people inhabited Long Island. A sub-division of the Algonquins known as the Secatogue tribe occupied all of the area in what is now the town of Islip. Their principal villages were at West Islip (Secatogue), Bay Shore (Penataquit), and Oakdale (Connetquot).

On November 29, 1683, William Nicoll (Nicolls), founder of the Town of Islip and son of New York City Mayor Matthias Nicoll, was awarded the first royal patent to the east end of what is now the Town of Islip. Nicoll purchased land from Sachem (Chief) Winnequaheagh of Connetquot. He named his 50,000-acre (20,000 ha) plantation (an 8-by-10-mile (13 by 16 km) tract of land) “Islip Grange”, in honor of his ancestral home of Islip in East Northamptonshire, England, from which Matthias emigrated in 1664. Nicoll’s domain extended from East Islip to Bayport and embraced the present-day communities of Sayville, West Sayville, Oakdale, Great River, Islip Terrace, Central Islip, Hauppauge, Holbrook, Bohemia, Brentwood, Holtsville, and a portion of Ronkonkoma. Nicoll paid an annual quit-rent (tax) to Thomas Dongan, 2nd Earl of Limerick and Governor of the Province of New York, of five bushels of good winter wheat or 25 shillings payable on March 25.

Other early land patentees were Andrew Gibb (Islip hamlet), John Mowbray (Bay Shore, originally Awixa), Stephan Van Cortlandt (Sagtikos Manor), and Thomas Willets (West Islip).

William Nicholl also purchased five islands from Winnequaheagh on November 19, 1687, including Hollins Island (a.k.a. East Fire Island. The purchase was confirmed on a patent by Governor Dongan on June 4, 1688. Altogether William Nicoll acquired four patents for land – the final purchase was on September 20, 1697, issued by Governor Benjamin Fletcher. Under Col. Fletcher, piracy was a leading economic development tool in New York City’s competition with the ports of Boston and Philadelphia. New York City had become a safe place for pirates (freebooters) who carried “real money” into the impoverished colony.

Nicoll’s estate eventually became the largest manor on Long Island.

By 1710, the colonial government passed an act to enable the precinct of Islip in the County of Suffolk to elect two assessors, a collector, a constable and a supervisor. The people had a voice. Growth, however, remained at a standstill until the Revolutionary War ended, when in the 17 years that followed there was more progress than in the 50 years preceding. This activity was partly due to the impact of American shipping.

Great River hamlet was formerly known as Youngsport. In the 1840s the Youngs family lived about one and a half miles south of Montauk Highway on Great River Road. Erastus Youngs and his family began building and repairing boats on the west shore of the Connetquot River near Great South Bay. With hardly anyone else around (21 houses), the place was called Youngsport for 30 years. Youngsport had one store and a freight station on the South Side Railroad of Long Island two miles north of it. The inhabitants were principally known as bay men. Alva Vanderbilt (later Alva Belmont), the Oakdale socialite suffragette, bought the Youngs’ home and gave it to Trinity Lutheran Parish of Brooklyn, which used it as a summer camp called “Seaside Camp” for city children. Youngsport Village’s name was changed to Great River in either 18705 or 1881.6

William Lawrence Breeze purchased 290-acre (120 ha) “Timber Point Farm” from William Nicoll in 1883.

The Great River freight station was enhanced to a passenger station in the summer of 1897.

William Nicoll 7th (great-great-great grandson of the original William) served as School Commissioner of East Islip. He was the last owner of Islip Grange, served as Warden of Emmanuel Church in Great River for 22 years, and ministered to the small cemetery there in which he is now buried. William 7th donated part of the land on which the present East Islip Junior High School now stands.

Heckscher State Park (1,600 acres (650 ha)), named for the industrialist August Heckscher, was part of Nicoll’s original estate and the location of the Nicoll Manor house. Heckscher Park’s land (Nicholls Neck) was once the location of the 19th-century estates of J. Neal Plumb (original location) and in 1886 George Campbell Taylor (1,500 acres (610 ha)). This should not be mistaken for the similarly named, fairly close but much smaller (18.5 acres (7.5 ha)) national historic district of Heckscher Park in Huntington on the North Shore of Long Island. Read more

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